Prosecution, defense present opening statements in mass murder trial
Guy Heinze Jr. accused in beating deaths of his father, seven others
Prosecutors made their opening arguments Tuesday in the death penalty trial of Guy Heinze Jr, who is charged with killing his father, his uncle and several cousins inside the Glynn County mobile home they all shared.
They told jurors all evidence in the case will be circumstantial, adding that they will see a lot of blood and gruesome crime scene photos.
The prosecution said Heinze killed his family and friends because he was angry with them and on drugs.
Prosecutors said Heinze's initial account of what happened after he discovered the bodies does not match the evidence at the scene. For instance, they said, he had no blood on his hands or his polo shirt after he said he touched some of the victims.
A 16-gauge shotgun, which was cocked and loaded, was found in Heinze's car with blood on it, prosecutors said. They said the blood belongs to one of the victims and that Heinze's fingerprints are on the gun.
One of the victim's cellphones was also found in Heinze's car with blood on it, prosecutors said. Additionally, they said the victims' blood is traced on Heinze's black underwear.
"Not one person's DNA was in that house that had any connection with that house except for this individual," said John Johnson, special assistant to the District Attorney. "He's the only person whose blood prints were found in that room."
The defense in its opening statement asked jurors to consider this: Heinze loved his family and close friends, so how is it possible for one, 5-foot-8, 180-pound man commit this act alone?
Heinze admitted he took the gun out of the home and put it in his car, defense attorneys said. The state says the gun was stolen.
The defense also said Glynn County police were not equipped to handle this investigation and made mistakes during it. They said there was cross-contamination of evidence and police did not test all the evidence.
The defense said an expert will testify about what could have been done to investigate this crime properly. They said evidence will show some victims struggled to get away.
Defense attorneys said a crime analyst will testify that the perpetrator should have been injured during the attack, and red stains found in the home should have been tested but were not, so that blood could be the perpetrator's.
Once opening statements completed late Tuesday afternoon, the state began calling first responders to testify. The coroner is expected to testify Wednesday.
Ten women and six men were seated on the jury earlier Tuesday.
Prosecutors say 26-year-old Heinze single-handedly clubbed all eight victims to death in August 2009. He later cried out in a frantic 911 call: "My whole family is dead!" Six days later, investigators charged him with murder.
Heinze has pleaded not guilty.
The 16-member jury panel, which includes four alternate jurors, was seated Tuesday morning. Glynn County Superior Court Judge Steven Scarlett has ordered all of them to be sequestered throughout the trial, which is expected to last at least two weeks.
Heinze's trial begins more than four years after the Aug. 29, 2009, slayings stunned the community and made headlines across the nation.
Testimony in the case should answer questions police and prosecutors have refused to discuss for years. How could one person kill so many people with no one managing to escape? And why would Heinze so violently slay some of the people considered closest to him?
One victim was the suspect's father, 45-year-old Guy Heinze Sr. The father and son were among 10 people living in a single-wide trailer Rusty Toler rented, paying $405 a month at the New Hope Plantation Mobile Home Park. Managers of the park said Toler had taken in the Heinzes as well as several family members who had fallen on hard times.
Toler, 44, was killed along with his four children: Chrissy Toler, 22; Russell D. Toler Jr., 20; Michael Toler, 19; and Michelle Toler, 15. Also slain was the elder Toler's sister, Brenda Gail Falagan, 49, and Joseph L. West, the 30-year-old boyfriend of Chrissy Toler. Her 3-year-old son, Byron Jimerson Jr., was seriously injured in the attack but ended up the sole survivor.
Both Heinze's grandfather and younger brother have questioned how he alone could have clubbed eight people to death. Clint Rowe, an uncle by marriage to the four slain Toler children, said after their funeral that Heinze "was part of the family," even if he wasn't related to the Tolers by blood.
A neighbor called 911 the morning after the slayings and handed the phone to Heinze, who sounds distraught as he says he found the battered bodies after returning home from a night out.
"It looks like they've been beaten to death. I don't know what to do, man," Heinze says on the recording. His voice becomes frantic when he discovers Michael Toler, who has Down syndrome, badly injured but clinging to life.
"Michael's alive, tell them to hurry!" Heinze can be heard yelling on the 911 recording. "He's beat up! His face is smashed in!"
Michael Toler died from his injuries at a hospital the next day.
Pretrial hearings revealed that police found blood all over the home. Blood-stain samples tested for DNA were collected from a living room chair, the kitchen floor and a bedroom window. There was blood on part of the ceiling and a trash basket behind a TV. Investigators found blood spattered on a cellphone, a kitchen knife, a pair of underwear and a pair of khaki shorts. They found more blood on the broken stock of a shotgun.
Authorities have never given a motive for the killings. But Heinze's defense lawyers said in a June court filing they suspect prosecutors may argue that a dispute over drugs triggered the carnage.
"There are witnesses who may testify that there was extensive drug use among members of the household and that Joe West was involved in the sale of illegal drugs," Heinze's lawyers wrote. "Evidence will likely be offered that on the night of the murders, Guy Heinze bought drugs from Joe West."
The court filing by Heinze's defense team goes on to say prosecutors might argue "that Mr. Heinze was in a drug-fueled rage and once started on the killings of his family could not be stopped until all were violently beaten to death."
Heinze is charged with eight counts of murder, once count of aggravated assault related to the toddler who survived the attack, plus two counts of drug possession. If he's convicted of murder, prosecutors will ask the jury to sentence Heinze to death.
Heinze's lead defense attorney, Newell Hamilton Jr., did not immediately respond to a phone call and email message Friday. He has previously declined to comment on specifics of the case.
The trial judge and attorneys plan to select a final dozen jurors plus alternates Tuesday from a pool of more than 70 who were qualified after being questioned about their views on the death penalty and prior knowledge of the case.
Superior Court Judge Steven Scarlett plans to sequester jurors until the trial ends. Heinze's attorneys asked the judge not to do that and argued that allowing jurors to go home at night would make them less inclined to rush to a verdict. But the judge agreed with prosecutors that jurors should be sequestered to keep them from exposure to news coverage and chatter about the trial outside the courthouse.
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